Decide if this person is self-absorbed or self-centered. A central aspect of the narcissist is being very self-involved. If you are dating a narcissist, your partner may talk at length about themselves, possibly in an exaggerated manner. They will dominate conversations and love being the center of attention.
Other tell-tale signs of being self-absorbed and self-centered include always admiring themselves in mirrors, commenting on achievements, pressuring you to do or see things their way, and expecting instant gratification to their demands (e.g. quick answers to phone calls, texts, or requests).
For instance, you find yourself hearing the same stories about your partner's great promotion at work, even weeks or months after they have transitioned into the new role.
Look for condescending behavior. While narcissistic people can be incredibly charming and likable, they may also have the tendency of putting others down. This is done to demonstrate their own superior looks, abilities, or accomplishments. In truth, narcissists have low self-esteem, but they hide this behind a false sense of superiority.
As a result of this tendency, you may find yourself questioning your own self-worth or feeling particularly flawed in your partner’s presence.
Does your partner tell you how lucky you are to be with them? Maybe they mention how many other people would love to be in your shoes, making you feel terrible about yourself.
Search for cues to a victim mentality. The self-centeredness associated with the narcissist also gives way to the tendency to play the victim. If you have a fight, all the blame will somehow land on your shoulders. If you disagree with a small aspect of your date’s ideas or opinions, they may say that you are sabotaging them.
For example, your date whines for days about how their professor treats them unfairly at school; however, they aren't willing to notice when they treat others unkindly. They only seem to notice when they are being mistreated.
Identify manipulation. The victim mentality of the narcissist goes hand-in-hand with manipulation and exploitation. Your date may not necessarily be conscious of this behavior, but they probably use shaming or guilt-tripping to make you do things their way. In terms of exploitation, a narcissist typically uses others for personal gain and then quickly discards them without any concern for their feelings.
A lack of empathy explains why a narcissist can so easily inflict hurt on others. This person is virtually incapable of putting anyone else’s needs above their own; however, they may be able to “pretend” to care in situations when showing empathy works in their favor.
For example, your date never cares to listen about problems with your family. Yet, when they visit your mother, they say, “Oh, they never tell me what's going on in the family! Please catch me up,” in order to get on her good side.
Determine how this person handles criticism or rejection. You are likely to be able to count on two hands the number of times your date has reacted negatively when they didn’t get their way. Narcissists generally have difficulty coping with negative feedback or consequences that lead to criticism, rejection, or disappointment.
Your date may display a variety of responses to these negative, yet common, situations. They may demonstrate anger by having a tantrum and cursing you out or insulting you. Other narcissists go the passive-aggressive route and give the silent treatment or withhold love and affection when you don't bend to their way of thinking.
Another common reaction to criticism, rejection, or disappointment is playing the victim by guilt-tripping or blaming you for negative consequences that happen in your partner's life.
Identify the cycle of a narcissistic relationship. If you suspect you are dating a narcissist, you may be able to identify a pattern in the highs and lows of your interactions. The cycle may include three phases: idealize (or over-evaluation), devalue and discard.
During the idealize stage, the narcissist will put their best foot forward. The person will be at their most charming and charismatic and may appear to be the perfect partner. They will idealize you, as well, placing you on a pedestal and showering you with compliments, telling you that you are better than anyone else, and they may rush intimacy, trying to get very serious with you very quickly.
During the devalue stage, the euphoria evaporates and the narcissist changes. This may happen gradually or overnight. The person will become distant and may become cruel and abusive. They may cheat, lie, manipulate, and may fly into sudden rages. You may feel like you must walk on eggshells and begin to question your own behavior. You may go through many turns of this hot/cold, loves-me-loves-me-not cycle.
This discard stage is when the relationship ends (sometimes temporarily). If the narcissist ends the relationship, it will likely be very abruptly, with no sense of closure. The person may give you the silent treatment and take pains to hurt you — such as removing all traces of your relationship from social media, making a big show of being happy in a new relationship, and possibly running a “smear campaign” in which they tear you down make themselves look like the victim. This may mark the end of the relationship, or the narcissist may return and the cycle can start all over again.
Check for an extreme display of all features. Any person may, at some point, act like a victim, manipulate others, or act with arrogance or feigned concern; however, with a pathological narcissist, this person is likely to display all of these qualities quite regularly. What’s more, pathological narcissists are mostly unaffected or unaware of how their behavior affects those around them.
For instance, do you often tell your date that you are feeling used, but they laugh it off as if it's a joke? The person seems incapable of seeing their own faults or misdeeds.
Determine if the behavior is long-standing. In addition to having very little self-awareness or concern about their negative personality traits, a pathological narcissist has probably been demonstrating these behavior patterns for many years. These behaviors are consistent over long span of time, perhaps starting in early adulthood or adolescence, and are quite resistant to change.
Only a trained mental health provider can adequately diagnose and treat narcissistic personality disorder. Still, noticing long-standing narcissism in a person — or hearing stories from other loved ones and friends — can give you some clues as to whether your date has a more serious personality issue.
See if other areas of life are affected. A narcissist who may warrant a mental health diagnosis is usually experiencing problems in many areas of life. Your date may not necessarily have a more serious form of narcissism if they show only one or two traits in one specific area of life, such as in a romantic partnership. People with true narcissistic personality disorder have traits that affect their ability to function in most social relationships and other aspects of life, such as in school or at work.
Try to have a chat with your date's friends or family members, or reach out to coworkers or classmates. Ask these people “So, how have they treated you?” See if they share any of your concerns or complaints.
Recognize the link between narcissism and depression. Many narcissists will only seek help as a result of the urging of you or close family and friends whose lives have been negatively affected by their behavior; however, another reason a narcissist may show up for professional treatment is after experiencing depression. The sense of superiority and grandiosity of the narcissist may be severely challenged when this person experiences negative consequences like rejection, prompting a depressive mood state.
Do you notice your date getting really down in the dumps after a bad evaluation or when something doesn't go their way? This could be a sign of the person's sense of superiority taking a depressive dive.
Get support. Having a strong network of friends and family nearby to lean on is a great antidote to being in a relationship with a narcissist. Simply having a shoulder to cry on after a particularly hurtful encounter or an ear to vent your frustrations to can be comforting as you learn to live with a narcissist. Be sure to choose a trusted adult that you can count on to keep your confidence, such as a best friend, counselor, or religious/spiritual advisor.
Reach out to a trusted confidante by saying, “I really need to talk to someone about my relationship. Are you willing to listen?”
It may also be helpful to seek out and participate in local or online support groups for those who love narcissists. Sharing your experiences with others who can relate may give you the support you need.
Protect your self-esteem. Although it may be easier said than done, don’t take the narcissistic behavior of your partner personally. Condescending language, emotional manipulation, and blame can all eat away at your self-worth. Remember that these behaviors are a reflection of your partner’s insecurities, not your own. To counteract any negative impact from being around this person, support your own self-esteem and self-worth and refuse to be a victim.
Ways to improve your own self-confidence include practicing self-compassion (i.e. being good to yourself and not continuing condescending language internally), making a list of your best attributes or accomplishments, spending time with people who value you, and taking good care of your health and well-being through diet, exercise, and stress-management.
Set and enforce personal boundaries. It’s important to accept that you cannot change your partner. Nonetheless, you do have control over how you interact with and react to a narcissist. Since being in a relationship with a narcissist likely causes you great emotional pain, if you are considering maintaining the relationship, you must have boundaries in place.
Let your partner know that you will not accept insults from them. Reinforce this by pointing out disrespect or hurtful comments when this person becomes condescending.
Learn how to say “no” and stand behind it. Guilt-tripping or blaming on the behalf of the narcissist can make you give in. Don’t. Let the person know “I’ve told you my answer. I no longer want to discuss this.”
Refuse to react to emotional manipulation. Ploys for your attention should be ignored; however, when your partner treats you respectfully and acknowledges your boundaries, be sure to highlight how much you appreciate this treatment. “Thank you for respecting my decision on this matter and not trying to change my mind” is a great way to let the person know you notice progress.
Suggest that the person get help. If you are in a committed relationship with a narcissist, you may try to convince your partner to seek out professional help. There is research to show that with intense therapy a narcissist can change these maladaptive ways of interacting with others.
You may gently suggest therapy by focusing on a situational example like “Hey, babe, I've noticed you have been pretty upset ever since you didn't get accepted into grad school. I think it would be a great idea if you went to see a professional to discuss your feelings about this.” This is a great way to get the person in the door, without them becoming defensive or denying the problem.
Long-term talk therapy can help a narcissist understand the reasons behind his or her emotions, thoughts, and actions and, ultimately, develop more effective ways of interacting with others.
If your partner has symptoms of depression or other debilitating symptoms, their mental health provider may also prescribe medication to help with treatment.
Consider ending the relationship to protect your own self-worth. When it comes down to it, you are responsible for supporting your own emotional and mental well-being. If you find that being in a relationship with a narcissist undermines your well-being, get out as soon as you can. Ending a relationship with a narcissist can be difficult due to this person’s naturally manipulative nature. Here are some tips on how to cut all ties with this person:
Commit to leaving the relationship fully. Avoid maintaining even minimal contact, if possible.
Don’t give in to manipulations or repeated promises that they will change.
Start a loving relationship with yourself to pour in the love that the narcissist may have withheld.
Look to the future. Believe in your mind and heart that there are better days ahead. With time, you can find healing.